Kathleen Alexander, associate professor of wildlife in the College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech, has received the university's 2013 Alumni Award for Excellence in International Outreach.

Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association, the Alumni Award for Excellence in International Outreach is presented annually to a faculty or staff member who has had a significant impact on international outreach at Virginia Tech. Recipients are selected based on their contributions to the internationalization of Virginia Tech and the global impact, significance, and sustainability of their work. Recipients are awarded $2,000.

A member of the Virginia Tech community since 2007, Alexander was recognized for “seamlessly connecting” her teaching and research programs to her international outreach work in Africa, improving the lives of people in Botswana.  Among her most notable work is her creation of the Center for Conservation of African Resources: Animals, Communities, and Land Use (CARACAL) with her husband, Mark Vandewalle, an adjunct professor. This non-governmental organization has made significant strides in bridging the gap between human and animal health and environmental sustainability.

The center’s facility, located at the boundary of Africa’s famous Chobe National Park, houses the only molecular and microbiological lab in the region as well as teaching facilities to support outreach activities. In a conservation education program developed by Alexander, local children get hands-on exposure to wildlife, as well as various research opportunities. Children gain confidence and the beginnings of a skill set to pursue careers in the natural resource and conservation sciences.

In addition, Alexander led an initiative to assist local impoverished female-headed households by creating a craft center on CARACAL land where women receive training and support on product development and business planning. She also developed the Botswana Youth Council Research Mentoring program, which provides training and mentoring for young unemployed citizens who serve as field research assistants in one of her research programs.

Alexander and her research team have made a number of important findings in Botswana, including the discovery of a novel tuberculosis pathogen related to human tuberculosis, the identification of the linkages between water quality and human health in the region, and of climate drivers of diarrheal disease that signal increased community vulnerability to climate change. Her work focuses on understanding and addressing critical threats to communities and the ecosystems on which they depend.

“Kathy is a brilliant scholar who successfully connects her many skills to people in Botswana,” said Paul Winistorfer, dean of the College of Natural Resources and Environment. “She recognizes that her most important goal is to improve the lives and livelihood of these people, while respecting the human-wildlife interaction that is coupled to environmental sustainability.”

Alexander received a bachelor’s degree, a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine degree, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis.

Written by Catherine Doss.
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